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Bob Ryan

Rivers ‘leaning heavily toward coming back’

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By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / May 12, 2011

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MIAMI — The hottest coaching commodity in the NBA isn’t even on the market.

Yet.

The hottest coaching commodity has a job. The question is whether or not he wants to keep it.

Doc Rivers broke his silence on the matter last night.

“I’m leaning heavily toward coming back,’’ the Celtics coach said after his season ended with a 97-87 loss to the Heat in Game 5 last night. “I made up my mind the last couple of weeks. I’m a Celtic. I’m competitive, as hell. I love our guys.

“Listen, there’s been a contract for basically three months there,’’ Rivers added. “Danny [Ainge] and Wyc [Grousbeck] have been on the other side of patience. It gave us a long time to talk about it as a family. I haven’t signed anything or done anything but it’s there and I probably will sign it.

“We only got one [child] left at the house and he basically told me he didn’t want me home. It will be easier and that’s one of the things for my family because it’s only Austin playing and Spencer. The other two are graduated from college. And it will be less travel in a lot of ways and they can come see me more because my wife only has one kid in the house. So that’s big for us. I told [Wyc] one of the games here, whatever you figure out with [my agent], I’ll probably do it.’’

Make no mistake. It’s a given in the minds of every NBA observer that Rivers would have his pick of jobs should he come to the conclusion that he has gone far enough with the one he has.

For the last four years it has been a good job. But you don’t need that proverbial PhD in Hoopology to know that it’s not going to be a plum job for much longer. The Big Three are getting up there in age, and Ainge will soon have a lot of rebuilding to do. Why should Doc put himself through that?

The man could not be in a better position. He won’t turn 50 until Oct. 13, which means he has a long shelf life as an NBA coach. The best part is that he is under absolutely no pressure to do anything. He can do whatever he likes.

Who among us hasn’t been speculating for a long time now that the 2011-12 season would be a perfect time for Rivers to kick back, take a year off, maybe grab a little broadcast gig if he likes — don’t forget that he was a top-of-the-line color man — and go see son Austin play for Duke? And when he’s not doing that, he could watch son Spencer play for his high school team. And when he’s not doing that, he could go watch daughter Callie play professional volleyball.

That’s all before we even discuss the impending lockout and the very real possibility that it may be well into 2012 before we see a real, live NBA game.

It’s not as if by taking a year off anyone in the NBA is going to forget just who Glenn “Doc’’ Rivers is. Every general manager has his cellphone number; you can count on that.

Rivers was always well thought of, but in the last year or so his reputation has grown exponentially. Coaching a championship team (2008) will enhance anyone’s résumé, and people likewise took notice when the Celtics extended the Magic to seven games without Kevin Garnett the following year.

Things really took a turn skyward last year, when the Celtics surprised the basketball world by coming within 94 seconds of beating the Lakers for what would have been championship No. 18. Doc’s stock soared.

He began his NBA career as a coaching prodigy, a 36-year-old player-turned-broadcaster-turned-coach who took an Orlando team picked to finish last and almost got it into the playoffs. For this he was named Coach of the Year in 2000.

The coaching business being among the more volatile ways of making a living in American society, he was introduced to the flip side three years later, when a team that was supposed to be built around Grant Hill didn’t have Grant Hill and got off to a brutal start (1-10). At that point, the Magic made Doc Rivers an ex-coach.

That bumpy ending in Orlando didn’t deter Ainge, who brought Rivers to Boston, a city where Rivers first attracted attention a little over two decades earlier by putting on the best guard show ever at one of the Boston Shootouts.

It has certainly been an interesting ride here. For one thing, Doc Rivers is the only coach in the history of the NBA who presided over an 18-game losing streak one year and was able to hoist the championship trophy the next. It was primarily about the players, of course. That’s always the case.

But it was also about recognizing what had to be done in order to make those marquee players into a unit. It was about having the prescience to take the Big Three on that Duck Boat ride to give them a teeny taste of what winning a championship in Boston would be like. It was about trotting out the “Ubuntu’’ theme. It was about classic personnel management, of knowing how to adjust to the whims and habits and aspirations of proud veterans. It was about recognizing the special talents of Rajon Rondo, talents that were accompanied by a very peculiar psyche that Doc is still trying to probe to this day.

It was about making it clear that any team success was going to start with defense, and then getting everyone involved to buy into what he was selling. Whatever he was selling, it must have been appealing, because no Celtics team ever played harder from the first exhibition to the final 131-92 Game 6 destruction of the Lakers than the 2007-08 edition. I can state that categorically. The 1985-86 team was better, but it took nights off. Doc’s 2007-08 team took no nights off.

It was about Doc maturing as a coach. He has to be 50 percent better at every aspect of coaching than he was in Orlando.

The word is out. There may be an NBA player or two who wouldn’t want to play for Doc Rivers, but I can’t imagine who it would be. His people skills and his sheer humanity separate him from the pack.

Why should he stay? The situation here is only going to deteriorate. He is at the perfect point in his professional life to take a year off and then see what new, challenging opportunities present themselves. He has given the Celtics great service. Then again, I’m sure he feels a sense of loyalty to his core group. But they’re all big boys. They would understand.

Doc Rivers is in an enviable position, but it’s only because he has earned it.

Gary Washburn of the Globe staff contributed. Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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